Every Wednesday during the season, NHL.com Correspondent Brian Metzer will provide you with an in-depth analysis of fantasy defensemen in our weekly segment: "On the 'D'-fence." From updated defensemen rankings to guys you should keep a close eye on and much more, Metzer will be your fantasy d-man expert all season long.
It was a long four months, but the National Hockey League season finally kicked off on Saturday with a jam-packed schedule that saw 26 teams in action. What might have gone unnoticed is that those 26 squads weren't the only ones who were dashing off the starting line in what is sure to be a sprint through the shortened 48-game season.
Obviously, the key in any fantasy league is getting the right mixture of players, and as we have made a habit of preaching over the last 15 months, defensemen are a major part of that elixir. This column and each that follow it will help you figure out which blue liners you should be targeting.
TOP 60 FANTASY DEFENSEMEN
These rankings are based on expectations of the season going forward (including injuries). They are based on a standard fantasy league with these offensive stats: G, A, plus/minus, PIMs, PPP, SOG
- 1. Erik Karlsson, Senators
- 2. Zdeno Chara, Bruins
- 3. Shea Weber, Predators
- 4. Kris Letang, Penguins
- 5. Alex Pietrangelo, Blues
- 6. Alexander Edler, Canucks
- 7. Dustin Byfuglien, Jets
- 8. Brian Campbell, Panthers
- 9. Dan Boyle, Sharks
- 10. Ryan Suter, Wild
- 11. Kevin Shattenkirk, Blues
- 12. Dion Phaneuf, Maple Leafs
- 13. Michael Del Zotto, Rangers
- 14. Keith Yandle, Coyotes
- 15. Mark Streit, Islanders
- 16. Drew Doughty, Kings
- 17. Niklas Kronwall, Red Wings
- 18. Jack Johnson, Blue Jackets
- 19. Kimmo Timonen, Flyers
- 20. Tobias Enstrom, Jets
- 21. Duncan Keith, Blackhawks
- 22. Mark Giordano, Flames
- 23. Christian Ehrhoff, Sabres
- 24. Joni Pitkanen, Hurricanes
- 25. Sergei Gonchar, Senators
- 26. James Wisniewski, Blue Jackets
- 27. Justin Schultz, Oilers
- 28. Dmitry Kulikov, Panthers
- 29. Dennis Wideman, Flames
- 30. Ryan Ellis, Predators
- 31. Alex Goligoski, Stars
- 32. Tyler Myers, Sabres
- 33. Ryan Whitney, Oilers
- 34. Cam Fowler, Ducks
- 35. Brent Seabrook, Blackhawks
- 36. Matt Carle, Lightning
- 37. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes
- 38. Jason Garrison, Canucks
- 39. Andrei Markov, Canadiens
- 40. Ian White, Red Wings
- 41. Kevin Bieksa, Canucks
- 42. Mike Green, Capitals
- 43. Sheldon Souray, Ducks
- 44. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers
- 45. Marek Zidlicky, Devils
- 46. Travis Hamonic, Islanders
- 47. John-Michael Liles, Maple Leafs
- 48. Brendan Smith, Red Wings
- 49. Dan Girardi, Rangers
- 50. Paul Martin, Penguins
- 51. Filip Kuba, Panthers
- 52. Slava Voynov, Kings
- 53. Nick Leddy, Blackhawks
- 54. Jared Spurgeon, Wild
- 55. Nikita Nikitin, Blue Jackets
- 56. John Carlson, Capitals
- 57. Erik Johnson, Avalanche
- 58. Justin Faulk, Hurricanes
- 59. Andrej Meszaros, Flyers
- 60. Victor Hedman, Lightning
Injured/Out: Ryan Murray, Willie Mitchell, Lubomir Visnovsky (suspended), PK Subban (RFA), Brent Burns, Jake Gardiner, Zach Bogosian
Erik Karlsson, who led all defensive scorers last season en route to the Norris Trophy, is again the top dog at the position. He might not average .96 points per game this season, but he is capable of coming close. He has already registered three points (1G, 2A), 10 shots on goal and a plus-3 through the Senators' first two games. He has also blocked four shots, something that might not have been obvious in his game in the past.
If you weren't able to secure Karlsson, there are plenty of other options who are performing well during the early stages of the season. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, of the St. Louis Blues, combined for seven points (1G, 6A) over the weekend, which was good enough to place them one and two among defensive scorers as play began on Tuesday night. Sheldon Souray, who seems to be enjoying life skating with those talented Ducks forwards, is again looking as if he sipped from the fountain of youth in picking up three points (1G, 2A) through his first two games.
The good news is that the position offers plenty of depth and there are a number of younger players who are primed to take major steps forward this season. Justin Schultz, who created quite a stir in free agency this summer before landing in Edmonton, was tearing up the American Hockey League prior to joining the Oilers last week. The Kelowna, BC native notched 48 points (18G, 30A) in just 34 games for Oklahoma City, and with the talent that surrounds him in Alberta it's just a matter of time before he is scoring with regularity at the NHL level. He picked up his first career goal on Tuesday night.
Ryan Ellis, Travis Hamonic and Nikita Nikitin all managed to notch at least two points through their first two games for the Predators, Islanders and Blue Jackets respectively, and they should continue to find their way onto the score sheet.
With games being played nightly over the next 90-plus days, productive defensemen could make the difference between winning and losing a close match, so don't forget to focus some attention on that aspect of your lineup.
Paul Martin, Penguins -- Martin, who is currently skating on the Penguins' top pairing with Brooks Orpik, looks like a different player this season. He is handling the puck with confidence and making smart plays that haven't been seen in his game since his days with the New Jersey Devils -- and there could be a good reason for that. Head coach Dan Bylsma has moved him back to the right side after using him on the left for most of his time in Pittsburgh. He was used chiefly on the right side during his time with the Devils, and the change has already resulted in three points (1G, 2A), including a power-play goal. Martin won't produce like teammate Kris Letang, but he could be a great depth play who notches upwards of 20 points this season.
Dmitry Kulikov, Panthers -- Kulikov, who finally inked a contract with the Panthers on Friday, is primed for a big season. He is entering his fourth NHL campaign and no longer has to jockey for power play minutes with Jason Garrison, who signed with Vancouver this summer. Kulikov is one of the craftiest offensive blueliners in the league and will get plenty of time with Brian Campbell on the No. 1 power-play unit. He shouldn't have much rust to shake either, as he spent the lockout playing in the KHL for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Grab him while you can.
Fedor Tyutin, Blue Jackets -- Tyutin will actually be playing in more of a shutdown role this season, but he will be paired with youngster Nikita Nikitin and will pick up more points than some projections give him credit for. He has already picked up three assists through two games and is shooting the puck to the tune of 2.5 shots per game. Most fantasy owners will be grabbing Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski, but there is production to be had in the form of Tyutin. Keep an eye on him.
Jay Bouwmeester, Flames -- The arrival of Dennis Wideman has really put a damper on Bouwmeester's fantasy value. He will get very little time on the power play, and though he'll still play plenty of minutes, they might not come as often with the Flames' top forwards. Bouwmeester is already in a bit of a plus-minus hole after registering a minus-4 over the weekend. Unless he ends up moving to another situation, he will not offer much help to fantasy teams this season.
P.K. Subban, Canadiens -- Big things were expected of Subban this season -- in fact, he ranked 11th in our preseason rankings back in August -- but his extended contract dispute leaves plenty of questions in terms of his productivity this season. He could be a huge asset capable of picking up points in bunches once he finally comes to terms, but unless you are looking to stash him in a keeper or dynasty league, look elsewhere.
Kurtis Foster, Flyers -- Foster was signed to play on the second power-play unit alongside Andrej Meszaros, but is already dealing with soreness. Though the injury is not significant, it is the sort of thing that could limit a player who is already going to play only a handful of minutes per evening. His shot is tantalizing, but there are plenty of other options on the waiver wire.
KEEP AN EYE ON ...
Patrick Wiercioch, Senators -- This 6-foot-5 puck mover will get every opportunity to earn a regular spot in the Senators lineup. He is currently getting 12:28 TOI per night and has already notched two assists, five shots on goal and one power-play point. Keep an eye on him, as he could find ways to be productive as the opposition focuses on shutting down Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar.